Keyboards control most synthesizers, giving piano players a whole new instrument with which they can produce an endless number of different tones. As synthesizers gained popularity in the music world, musicians without keyboard skills wanted a way to produce synthesized sounds. As a result, drum machines, guitar synths, and wind controllers have been manufactured.
Just as its name “wind controller” indicates, it is a woodwind-like instrument that produces sounds by controlling an electronic tone generator. Its main body is tube shaped and is usually about one foot to one and a half feet in length. It has a mouthpiece that is similar to that of the saxophone or clarinet and it is fingered in the same way as a saxophone. The musician playing the wind controller blows through the instrument, but unlike traditional acoustic wind instruments, it does not directly produce a tone by vibrating airwaves — it sends a MIDI signal to a synthesizer or tone module. The synthesizer then sends an audio signal to a speaker or headphones to produce sound. The first wind controller was the Lyricon that was made by Computone in the 1970s. It was popular among some wind instrument players who wanted to be able to produce the wide variety of sounds that synthesizers are capable of creating and primarily rock and jazz-rock fusion players used it.
Several other companies have made wind controllers since the Lyricon. The most successful have been Akai and Yamaha that started producing wind controllers in the mid 1980s. They have both produced several different models, changing the instruments as new technology is developed. The Akai EWI (pronounced ee-wee) is very flexible and has a range of eight octaves. Unlike acoustic wind instruments it is capable of playing as many as four notes at the same time. Michael Brecker is probably the most famous EWI player in the world of jazz and rock. In the last decade several modern classical composers have written works that feature the EWI.
At the same time that Akai developed the EWI it created an electronic valve instrument, or EVI, allowing trumpet players the advantage of using their valve technique with synthesizers. The instrument was not as popular as the EWI and is no longer in production.